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Legends Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting face acid test in two high-profile series

Sachin Tendulkar

Sachin Tendulkar… a century in the Ranji Trophy game against Railways would have helped him find form and confidence ahead of the Test series against England © Getty Images

A sum total of 355 Tests, 28879 runs, 92 hundreds, 127 half-centuries and 307 catches. That’s the combined might of the figures of Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting, two gladiators who have dominated the Test arena for the major part of the last two decades — two men who, for many, are the finest batsmen since Sir Don Bradman.

The vicissitudes of life, however, spare nobody and Tendulkar and Ponting are no exceptions. The two greats face an acid test in the twilight of their respective careers; they find themselves in similar situations gearing up for huge challenges in their own backyards — Australia versus South Africa and India against England.

Both Tendulkar and Ponting haven’t enjoyed the best of runs over the last 18 months or so. There have been flashes of brilliance — reminiscent of their pomp in the days gone by. But it has been a struggle matching their exalted standards. Decibel levels calling for their retirements have intensified as many found it painful to watch them battle their inner demons. The pressure to perform has been intense, with each outing being scrutinised by the media and the public.

There are striking similarities in the recent timelines of Tendulkar and Ponting. The only difference being that Ponting enjoyed a purple patch when India had toured Australia early this year. If one doesn’t take that into account, there isn’t much to choose between the two.

Ricky Ponting

Ricky Ponting… enters the Tests against South Africa with 162 not out and 60 not out against Victoria © Getty Images

In the aftermath of the 2011 World Cup, India has slipped in the Test rankings with the ignominious defeats in England and Australia. A lot of the talk since the World Cup had been about Tendulkar’s hundredth international ton — a wait that was painstaking and frustrating. He was hitting the ball well and was balanced at the crease. Nevertheless, he failed to convert his starts into big scores, something that happened far too often in both England and Australia. On both tours, he was amongst the better batsmen in the side and got a few good scores. But that also reflects the kind of struggle India had to go through.

On a parallel note, Ponting too looked a man recharged after the responsibility of captaining the side was off his shoulders. However, he lost his accustomed No 3 slot in Sri Lanka last year when Shaun Marsh scored a hundred on debut. Despite the setback, he continued to look in touch. But like Tendulkar, the big scores weren’t coming. Unlike Tendulkar, he did have a high against India, but it came in after two tough series against South Africa and New Zealand. The curtains were drawn on his One-Day International (ODI) career after a string of failures.

The point where their story gets interesting is from their respective last series. While Ponting didn’t build on the encouraging showing against India on the tour to the West Indies, Tendulkar’s lack of runs in the series against New Zealand became a forest fire in India. It wasn’t merely because of the number of runs he scored, but the manner in which he was dismissed — bowled on three consecutive occasions. Tendulkar had to face bigger questions as Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, two legends of his vintage, walked into sunset in the face of failures.

As Tendulkar and Ponting approach their upcoming assignments, they have signalled their intent of getting back to their best with encouraging performances at the domestic level. Tendulkar’s hundred for Mumbai against the Railways in the Ranji Trophy would certainly help him find his rhythm and boost his confidence ahead of the series against England. Ponting has spent more time on the domestic front and has recorded a few good hits. The Tasmanian’s performance of 162 not out and 60 not out in the game against Victoria was the highlight and showed that the there is still fight left in him.

The contest against England is very crucial for Tendulkar as he admitted that he would take it series by series and assess things in November. While he has accepted the fact that his 39-year-old body may not be able to support him in his undying quest for runs, he still has the determination and fire to deliver his best for his country. India and England play four Tests and this series could certainly determine Tendulkar’s near future. Another struggle wouldn’t be taken well by the team management and the public.

Similarly, Ponting too has to score runs against South Africa to prolong his stay at the highest level. The Australian setup is very different from that of India’s and they won’t fall short of asking a great to quit if he isn’t performing.

The two are proven champions and the unique will to succeed is what separates them from the mortals. Tendulkar and Ponting have silenced a number of critics in the past with thunderous performances with the bat. The fire is still raging within them, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they pile heaps of runs in the coming games.

It would be redemption for Tendulkar as the critics have certainly been hard on him off late. A good performance would help him assess things and he would then target the home series against Australia. On the other hand, Ponting has the Ashes 2013 in sight. However, Australia play a number of Tests before that tour.

Is a great resurrection in store for the two greats?

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)

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